Book review

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Statistics

Format: eBook (Kindle) 

Length: 288 pages

Genre: History, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bonnier Publishing Australia

Date of Publication: 27th January, 2018

Rating: 4/5 stars


I love reading historic fiction. It is one of my favourite genres. I especially love books based on the World War and the Holocaust because they represent a period in history that we must never forget. I had heard a lot about this book and could not wait to get started.


The Blurb

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions. 

The Book

I love reading historical fiction. It is one of my favourite genres. I especially like reading books based on the World War and the Holocaust because they represent a period in history that we must never forget. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris is a memoir of Lale, a Holocaust survivor. It begins with Lale being herded into the infamous cattle wagons and takes us on an emotional journey through the three years of his survival in one of the most horrific concentration camps in history.

Due to the author’s style of writing, the first half of the book did not have the kind of effect on me that I thought that it would. I don’t mean to imply that the story isn’t powerful because it is. But it did not make me bawl. However, the second half of the book and the Afterword by the author felt more personal and broke my heart to a million pieces. Some of Lale’s story seemed to rely mostly on luck, especially towards the end but for someone who lived through the unluckiest part of history, Lale can have all the luck in the world and it would still seem inadequate in comparison.

The Author

Heather Morris is a Native of New Zealand now resident in Australia, working in a large public hospital in Melbourne. For several years she studied and wrote screenplays, one of which was optioned by an academy award winning Screenwriter in the U.S. In 2003, she was introduced to an elderly gentleman “who might just have a story worth telling”. The day she met Lale Sokolov changed her life, as their friendship grew and he embarked on a journey of self scrutiny, entrusting the inner most details of his life during the Holocaust. Heather originally wrote Lale’s story as a screenplay – which ranked high in international competitions – before reshaping it into her debut novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz.


TL;DR: A moving tale which could have been written better but one that is important for the world to know


What are your favourite historic fiction reads?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

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Book club, Book review

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Statistics

Format: eBook (Kindle)

Length: 322 pages

Genre: Historic Fiction

Publisher: Knopf publishers

Date of Publication: 7th June, 2016

Rating: 5/5 stars


I read homegoing as a part of a readalong on Instagram along with Nikhat, Nikita, Unnati, Orishtha, Vasudha, Geethika & Debbie, Aanvi, Miss Literateur and The Book Knight.

I love readalongs and book discussions because it opens your mind to other possibilities and interpretations of the same written words. It always amazes me that the same sentences could mean so many different things to different people.

Historic fiction is one of my favourite genres and the growth of a culture is always interesting to read. African history is steeped high with the intermingling of cultures and races and it is tragically beautiful while being infuriating at the same time. I have previously read books on the same subject and was curious to see what this book held and I was certainly not disappointed.


The Blurb

The book begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoing traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indeliably drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present day.

Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

The Book

A sentence that makes sense even now with all the oppressors and the religious wars-“The white man’s god is just like the white man. He thinks he is the only god, just like the white man thinks he is the only man. But the only reason he is god instead of Nyame or Chukwu or whoever is because we let him be. We do not fight him. We do not even question him. The white man told us he was the way, and we said yes, but when has the white man ever told us something was good for us and that thing was really good? They say you are an African witch, and so what?”

“The white man’s god is just like the white man. He thinks he is the only god, just like the white man thinks he is the only man. But the only reason he is god instead of Nyame or Chukwu or whoever is because we let him be. We do not fight him. We do not even question him. The white man told us he was the way, and we said yes, but when has the white man ever told us something was good for us and that thing was really good? They say you are an African witch, and so what?”

Homegoing covers the lives of eight generations of Gold Coast residents in West Africa. It begins with the arrival of the whites for trade in the form of barter of goods and continues to show the brutality of the slave trade, the atrocities of the whites over the blacks and finally the life of blacks in segregated cities after the Civil War. I had recently read The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas where she shows how much of inequality still exists in the world based on skin color. To read about the reason for the development of that racial discrimination was enlightening. I had previously read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs and watched Django Unchained by Quentin Tarantino, both with brutal visuals of the plight of slaves and this book reminded me of some of those scenes that I had trouble getting out of my head again.

The book is written from the points of view of various characters, some powerful men and women, others helpless slaves. I love books that discuss a situation through all the different characters who have been affected by it. I loved how the author linked every chapter to something that happened in one of the previous chapters. It gave the book a continuity that made reading it a treat. The brutality of the living conditions, the whippings, the burnings and the very concept of owning another human being were gut-wrenching. I had to stop reading a couple of times because the imagery was so powerful. It was great that I had the other girls reading along with me to discus what we felt and to just be there for each other.

The book is divided into exactly two halves though I do not see the necessity. The last quarter of the book was not as powerful as the rest of the book but I attributed it to the fact that it covered parts of history that I already had read about. It was a beautifully written story with complex characters and it is one of my favourite reads of this year.

The Author

Yaa Gyasi was born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. She holds a BA in English from Stanford University and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where she held a Dean’s Graduate Research Fellowship. Her short stories have appeared in African American Review and Callaloo.


TL;DR: A powerful book that takes the reader on a journey across generations and continents and challenges some of the pre-set notions in history.


What is your favourite book in the historic fiction genre?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book review, Readathon

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Statistics

Format: eBook (Kindle)

IMG_20180610_110751-01-01-min

Length: 352 pages

Genre: Historic Fiction, LGBTQ+

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

First publication: 20th September, 2011

Rating: 5/5 stars


Last month BooksNBeyond had a #slaythetbr readathon that I participated in. Since June is Pride Month, the theme of their readathon is #loveislove. The Song of Achilles was the first book that I picked for their prompt “A book sent in a books n beyond box”. It is also the third book for the #pridereadathon organised by Sai Ram and Dhruv Singhal, the 1st being Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda and next Less. Historic Fiction is my favourite genre and I absolutely loved this book right from the first chapter.


The Blurb

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

The Book

The Song of Achilles begins with the protagonist Patroclus, a young prince struggling with meeting the high and unrealistic expectations set for him by his father, King Menoitius. When he accidentally kills his bully and fails to lie his way out of it, he is exiled by his father. Fortunately for him, he is fostered by King Peleus of Phthia where he meets his beloved Achilles. The boys grow up in Phthia and in Mount Pelion under the guidance of Phoinix the councelor and Chiron the Centuar. How the love blossoms and how grownup responsibilities destroy everything that the boys hold dear is what makes up the story.

I love a book that is written from the point of view of the underdog. Patroclus, the unassuming sidekick to Achilles’ godlike divinity is given a voice of his own. His struggles are struggles that all of us face- to learn, to grow, to have his own identity. However, he understands that Achilles is destined for greatness and does not stand in his way nor demand anything in return for his undying devotion to his cause. The innocence of the love that grown between Patroclus and Achilles was beautiful to watch. Thetis’ treatment of Achilles and later of Pyrrhus was sad to observe. It seemed that all she cared about was their fame which would indirectly reflect on her. Her disapproval of Patroclus is something that we seen even in parents. However, she redeemed herself in my eyes in the last few pages.

I loved Achilles throughout the book. He was aware of his greatness but treated everyone with fairness, was not conceited nor was he entitled. However, he broke my heart with his treatment of the Greeks at the end of the book and I blamed him entirely for what happened to Partoclus. The interaction of the Kings and Princes reminded me of Game of Thrones but was more believable. Odysseus was one of my favourite characters and I wish he had more roles to play. I was picturing the movie Troy with Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom and Eric Bana for the period costumes and landscapes.

I was glad for the Character Glossary at the end of the book. We have all heard of these Greek Gods, Goddesses and Heroes but the story that we know slightly differs from the author’s. This is explained at the end of the book and gave me closure. I was glad that the author stuck to the real story. That is, after all what historic fiction is all about. I was impressed with the handling of the LGBT theme in that era. It is very sad to see that what was considered normal in the 1st Century AD is considered by many as abnormal in the 21st. The book is fast-paced and difficult to put down and the story will stay with me for a long time.

The Author

Madeline Miller was born in Boston and grew up in New York City and Philadelphia. She attended Brown University, where she earned her BA and MA in Classics. For the last ten years she has been teaching and tutoring Latin, Greek and Shakespeare to high school students. She has also studied at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and in the Dramaturgy department at Yale School of Drama, where she focused on the adaptation of classical texts to modern forms. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA, where she teaches and writes. The Song of Achilles is her first novel.


TL;DR: A beautifully presented story of characters that we are all familiar with, shown in a new light.


Do you love historic fiction?

What is your favourite?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Advanced Review Copy (ARC), Book review, Received for Review

Nagin by Mayur Didolkar

Statistics

Format: Paperback IMG_20180527_124537-01-min.jpeg

Length: 273 pages

Genre: Supernatural, Thriller, Mythological

Publisher: Juggernaut Books

Rating: 4/5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review


I have read Hush A Bye Baby and Animal Farm online on the Juggernaut app. So when they offered to send a paperback to me I was pleasantly surprised. I like stories set in mythology and decided to give this a read.

The author also gives credit to local legends and stories that have been passed from generation to generation which is a rare thing to see. I was glad that he felt the need to give credit where credit was due.


The Author

Mayur Didolkar runs a financial services business in Pune. A fan of popular fiction, he has published two novels and several short stories. He writes for Swarajya and The Quint. Mayur tries his hand at stand-up comedy occasionally and has run two full-marathons.

A crime and horror writer, the possibility of things going dreadfully, irrevocably wrong in ordinary situations inspires his work.

His work include-

  1. The Dark Road (2017)
  2. Tears for Strangers

The Blurb

Loving wife, obedient daughter, loyal friend.
But if you provoke her, she will raise her hood and spit poison.

A woman is stalked by a man she had once rejected. A housewife discovers a plot to kill her husband. A blind young girl is chased by an underworld gang.

But these are no ordinary women.
Some of them aren’t even women.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

The Book

Nagin consists of nine short stories (eight from the present book with a bonus from the author’s upcoming series) that revolve around Ichhadhari nags and nagins, Vidharbas, Bhinna Nishacharas and the monster hunters- wyadhas. I was a bit skeptical in the beginning since I am against all things superstitious but then I decided to keep an open mind about the book. If you read it at face value, without bringing science into it, it reads as a really good book. It is well written and you don’t see the twists coming even if you think you do.

There are plenty of occurrences that happen everyday that defy science and the stories here should be read as one of them. The stories manage to give you chills especially ‘Ranbhool’ and ‘Haka Mari’. The one titled ‘Laughing Hearts’ was very detailed regarding how the world of stand-up comedy works and that makes sense now that I know that the author has tried his hand at stand-up comedy.

The book reminded me of the TV series Supernatural that I used to follow very religiously until last year. The shape shifters, the monsters, the hunters, the wit, the planning and the execution were very Sam-and-Dean-ish and I loved it despite thinking to myself “Yeah, like that’s going to happen!”

I was glad that the author researched real legends and based his stories on them rather than reinventing the wheel. The fact that he gave credit to those old stories raised my opinion of him ten fold. In a day where people have stopped believing in the supernatural and where science has advanced enough to provide an answer to many of life’s mysteries, it is nice to be reminded of such stories that have been passed on from generation to generation.

It is a fun exercise to try to see what made the people of that era think up of such legends. The wasting of the body and extreme susceptibility to infections after exchange of bodily fluids with a Visha Kanya could very well be an example of people suffering from AIDS after unprotected sex. While it is easy for us to dismiss all stories of the old, it is interesting to see that some may have a bearing even in the present day and age.


TL;DR: A quick and fun read that deals with the supernatural and gives you chills along the way


Do you like stories steeped in superstition and legends of the olde?

What are some of the stories that you heard as a child that still give you chills?

Tell me more in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book review, Received for Review

The Brahmin by Ravi Shankar Etteth

Statistics

Format: Paperback IMG_20180430_174226-01-min

Length: 246 pages

Genre: Historic fiction

Publisher: Westland Publishers

Rating: 4/5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Writer’s Melon on Instagram had a call for reviewers for The Brahmin. I already  a pleasant experience reviewing Letters to My Ex for Writer’s Melon and since I love historic fiction, I could not let this opportunity slip by. I was on tenterhooks till I was selected for the review and was really glad when the book arrived.


The Author

Ravi Shankar Etteth is an author and a cartoonist born in Palakkad and currently based in Delhi where he works as a cartoonist and editor for The New Indian Express. He is the nephew of the author O.V. Vijayan.

His first cartoon appeared in Link. He worked for Indian Express on contract, and as the staff cartoonist. In 1990, he became the Creative Director of the Observer Group of Publications. He later became the deputy editor of India Today. He was also art director of the magazine. He edited the afternoon tabloid Today and is the founder editor of India Today Spice. He has worked in television as the Editor in Chief and CEO of Voice of India. He was also the Editorial Director of Media Transasia.

His other work include:

  1. The Scream of the Dragonflies (1996)
  2. The Tiger by the River (2003)
  3. The Village of Widows (2004)
  4. The Gold of their Regrets (2009)
  5. The Book of Shiva (2016)

The Blurb

The empire is ruled with an iron hand, masterminded by Emperor Ashok. But his kingdom is under siege and even his able spymaster, the enigmatically named Brahmin, is baffled by the murders that have shocked the concubines’ quarters. Who is behind the gruesome deaths and what is their purpose?

Lush with historical detail and unforgettable characters, The Brahmin is an intelligently plotted novel that seeks to recreate a near mythical period in India’s past

The Book

The Brahmin is a story set during the rule of Ashoka on Magadha. The most that I remember of Ashoka is from the history textbooks and the Hindi movie played by my favourite Shah Rukh Khan. Almost all depictions of Ashoka talk about him being a visionary who developed the roads and sanitation in his kingdom. It is rare to find descriptions of the King from the pre-Kalinga-Magadha war time period where is he just another shrewd yet power hungry king on a quest to rule the world.

Here we are given a glimpse into the division of power in the Magadhan court and the diplomacy that the kings practiced during that time. I was very happy to discover that Queen Asandhimitra was not a mere wall flower. She was a Queen who played an active part in the administration of the Kingdom by interacting with her subjects. She was kind and just but also had the courage to make risky decisions and was the queen that a king like Ashoka needs.

The character of The Brahmin was loosely based on Chanakya who they claim is his ancestor. The story takes place over the period of one week where The Brahmin must identify the culprit behind the murders of the girls in the harem. It was a fast paced story with twists in every page. Some of them were a bit too fast and far fetched and required a second read. But the story was very enjoyable. Being a person who puts science above all else, I was impressed with the knowledge that the ancient Indians were supposedly in possession of. They had apparently already discovered that radiation sickness kills slowly over time and causes genetic alterations. The also knew that lead protects from radiation. I wish we had a better documentation of all the discoveries so that we could lay rightful claim without having to resort to hearsay and make up stories.

The chemistry between Hao and The Brahmin was very sweet. The back-flashes to the old war where the King and The Brahmin are blessed by an enlightened soul and correlation of that scene to the end was unexpected. I have always had a soft corner in my heart for Rahula, the boy who grew up in the shadow of a father that he never knew and I was glad to have read the last part of the book on the day of Buddha Purnima.

I loved that characters such as the Queen and the assassins were strong ladies who could hold their own even in a time where women did not enjoy equal status in the society. While some parts of the book did feel a bit stereotypical, it was only natural seeing that the book was set in 261 BC. I enjoyed the descriptions of opulence which was done with great taste. The fact that The Brahmin kept me up way past my bedtime on a couple of nights is proof enough that it is a well written book.


TL;DR: Steeped in intrigue, it is a fast paced, action packed book that is filled with historic depictions of the time of the rule of Ashoka.


Do you love historic fiction?

What books do you recommend in the genre?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book review, Received for Review

The Relic by Ashwin Karthik and Madhava Sharma

Statistics

Format: eBook (Kindle)

Length: 220 pages

Rating: 3/5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from The Book Planet PR in exchange for an honest review.


The authors

Ashwin Karthik is an engineer who works for ANZ as a Business Analyst. Although he is a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, he has never let his misfortunes dictate his life. He uses his indomitable spirit and a strong will to overcome challenges. He has been awarded the Helen Keller award and the Best Employee award in the spaces of PWDs by the President of India. He is also the mascot for his company’s policy of inclusiveness and is the embodiment of a multifaceted human being. He expresses his beliefs through poems written in various languages.

Madhava Sharma who works in Mphasis is also a person who has had to overcome medical challenges. Although macular degeneration led to blindness, Sharma has worked in multiple organisations and NGOs with zeal and determination to overcome his obstacles. His poetry in Kannada is inspiring and has positive messages for the society.

Blurb

Vijay stuck his ear on the door and pressed the eye of the cobra as if he pressed a button, he heard a latch unfasten itself. Immediately the two halves of the door started to slide in their respective sides. With a creaking noise, the legendary door slid open.

The story of “The Relic” revolves around the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Kerala – the treasure it holds and the mystery around it. The tale begins with the government trying to find out whether the money had been misappropriated.

Vijay, an Intelligence Bureau officer, is sent with orders to open the secret vaults of the Shri Padmanabhaswamy temple. He finds ways to open the vault and is particularly fascinated by a pot he finds in a metal box, amid heaps of the golden ornaments and precious gems.

After completing the formal investigations, he sets out to find out for himself the secret behind the pot.

The Relic is a journey of the officer on his quest to unravel the mystery behind the pot and incorporated into the plot is the intrigue of the Aghoris in Banaras – some of them practice rituals that are gory and grisly.

It talks of ascetics and their divine yogic powers, through which they could teleport their souls into other people’s bodies. It also talks about astrology and also warns how people in the modern world are being misled by the fake astrologers.

The story is both a thriller and an insightful glimpse into the protagonist’s mind, that incorporates Vijay’s personal life and his curious past.

The Book

I am a huge fan of books with history and mythology interwoven into the story but most of them only manage to disappoint me. The Relic started out with great promise. I liked the accurate descriptions of medical conditions as well as places of historic importance.  The temple and the town were realistically described as were the Kingdoms of the past. However, the book soon fell into the trap of doing too many things at the same time to try and hook the reader. The book would have resonated more with me had it stayed true to its story-line of the treasures in Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple. It loses focus and tries to follow the scholars in Banaras and then the ascetics the Himalayas; all with the end game of finding what a pot does. A dedicated and honest officer of the Intelligence Bureau waving his pistol and showing pictures of his findings to people who’s backgrounds were not previously vetted by the Bureau was not very believable. An introduction to a large number of characters like Principals of two different colleges and travel companions with whom we interact in only one scene each seemed unnecessary.

The yogis and the feats displayed by them were overtly dramatic and unbelievable. The  so-called ‘gory’ practices by the Aghoris has been proven to be hearsay and rumors spread by people who do not understand the cult. Had the authors researched a little more into it, they would have been able to focus on the real practices that these unconventional sages follow. The authors could have provided more concrete evidence about the herbs and the stone that Vijay and Bade Baba go in search of and also of all the claims of alchemy. The multiple twists in the story were very bollywood-esque and left me wondering if they were really required. Wouldn’t it have been better to stick to one story rather than introduce multiple complications?

Vijay and his father’s patriotism and loyalty were wonderful, albeit a tad dramatic. The beauty of the Ganga Valley and the Himalayas was well written and seemed to transport me to those places along with Vijay. However, what really irked me was the inconsistency in sentence structure and the grammatical and spelling errors that were peppered through out the book. A strong round of editing with elimination of extra characters and scenes as well as proficient language checks would have really helped the book in my opinion.


TL;DR: A good first try and a book with a lot of potential


What are some of the other books that you have read with mythology and history in them? I would love to hear more about them in my comments or Instagram @the_food_and_book_life